Rhymes With Fuchsia

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

Today's Ten on Tuesday is ten things I'm thankful for, and since I'm already covering that ground on Thursdays, Carole suggested that Thankful Thursdays participants do ten people we'd like to invite to dinner instead.

Well, I got to thinking about that, and all the people who first came to mind were at the center of various historical riddles and turning points. I'm therefore putting a slight twist on my list. I'm assuming, of course, that I have the power to bring these people back to life and to communicate freely with them. I've put these in chronological order, and each question assumes actual history up until that point. (To try to build one hypothetical on the next would boggle the mind. We can't even predict the weather more than a couple of days out, for heaven's sake, because the variables multiply with every hour.)

I could spin some of these out for pages, if not chapters, but since it's late I'll just do the 10,000-foot view.

Ten Historical Riddles and What-ifs
  1. In the early Christian church there was a dispute between St. Peter, who thought that Christians were subject to the Jewish law, and St. Paul, who thought that they were not. What if St. Peter had won that argument? Would Christianity have spread as fast and as far?
  2. What if Leonardo da Vinci had invented a motorized airplane? We know about da Vinci's experiments, and there's speculation that he did indeed fly, but what if he'd made general air travel possible almost 500 years early? Would he have started an industrial revolution? Would the explorers of the New World have come by plane? Would we be out of oil by now?

    Of all the people on this list, da Vinci is the one I'd most like to have dinner with, again assuming that we could communicate. He was truly amazing, the original Renaissance man.
  3. What if Columbus hadn't gotten financing from Ferdinand and Isabella? Who would have discovered the New World, and when? Would we celebrate Balboa Day or Magellan Day? (If so, could we do it in the summer?) (Incidentally, you know how we learned in school that Columbus's contemporaries thought he'd sail right off the edge of the earth and never be heard from again? Not true: they all knew the world was round, but Columbus thought it was smaller than his detractors did, so that he could get to India faster by sailing west instead of east. He was wrong, and he and his crew would have died of hunger and thirst long before reaching his destination if a continent hadn't luckily been in the way.)
  4. My first thought on contemplating the dinner question was to invite Arthur, Prince of Wales, and/or Catherine of Aragon, just so I could ask them, "So, how's married life treating you?" This question, specifically whether they were in fact married in every sense of the word, became contentious when Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine, and he claimed that she lied about never having consummated her marriage to Arthur. They were married for only six months before Arthur died, possibly of sweating sickness; Catherine got sick too, but she survived. (Sweating sickness is a great historical medical mystery in itself, but I digress.) There's no way to know the truth, of course, but when I came to think about it I realized the two great what-ifs here: what if Arthur had lived? What kind of ruler would he have been? The Philippa Gregory novel The Constant Princess presents Arthur as a wise and careful planner who wants to do what's best for England; as far as I can tell there's no real historical evidence either way, but if he'd lived his brother would have gone into the church, and there would have been no Mary and no Elizabeth, and England might still be Catholic. Alternatively, what if both Arthur and Catherine had died? Henry VIII would have become king, but he would have had to marry someone else, probably a younger woman who might have borne him sons. (Addendum: Catherine actually did have at least six pregnancies and one live-born son, but all of her children except Mary died in infancy.) Again, no Mary, and probably no Elizabeth, although it's possible that he might still have ended up with Anne Boleyn and his subsequent four wives.
  5. What if Mozart had lived longer? I don't know that the grand sweep of history would have been much affected, but I have to put this one in. Mozart was still learning, still highly creative, right up until his death. Can you imagine him and Beethoven having each other to play off of for 20 or 30 years? We'd have some amazing music, that much is for sure.
  6. What if the South had won at Gettysburg? A lot of historical accounts have it that Lee massively botched his strategy and didn't give clear commands, and that if he'd had it together he'd have had a good chance of winning. Would the South have gone on to win the Civil War? And what then? I've seen a couple of essays advancing the idea that this would have been a good thing, that slavery would have gradually withered away anyway, and that the Union would have been reconstituted sometime in the early 1900s. I'm not so sure; I think this takes far too rosy a view of the South.
  7. What if we'd foiled the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? I think it would depend on what losses the Japanese suffered in the hypothetical battle. The Japanese had already been at war with China and expanding their influence elsewhere in the Pacific; we might have left them to their own devices, at least for a while. Since the actual Pearl Harbor led Hitler to declare war on the US, the course of the war in Europe would have changed as well.
  8. What if General Devers had crossed the Rhine at Strasbourg in November 1944? I read about this in the NYT just the other day: Eisenhower decided to be cautious and didn't let him cross. If Devers had successfully crossed and routed the Germans, as some historians then and now have thought likely, the war in Europe might have been over months earlier. The eastern and western European blocs might not have formed either.
  9. What if Al Gore had been acknowledged the winner of Florida in the 2000 presidential election? (I think he did win, or should have won, certainly if they hadn't had those confusing ballots, but I know opinions differ on this. Work with me here.) Would 9/11 still have happened? If it had, what would President Gore have done? Would he have invaded Iraq as President Bush did?
  10. What if we'd foiled the 9/11 plot? There would have been no war in Afghanistan and probably none in Iraq either, although by some accounts President Bush would have taken any excuse to make war on Iraq. (I really hope I'm around in 20 years or so to see what history makes of Bush then. I suspect that it will still think better of him than I do, but we'll have to wait and see.)


  • Wow! Thought provoking questions, and fun. these are the premises on which great alternate history books are based.

    I'm so shallow. I'd want to invite wits and humorists, and laugh myself sick. Oscar Wilde, Groucho Marx and Robin Williams. And PG Wodehouse to record the bagatelle.

    By Blogger Roxie, at 9:47 AM  

  • Re: #9. I think 9/11 would still have happened. The Islamic extremists had been at it for long before Bush was elected. Remember the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center? Then Al-Queda bombed US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; Osama bin Laden was one of 22 indicted by a federal grand jury for those attacks. (Thus endeth my history lesson, aided in large part by Wikipedia.)

    Oh, and my table is surrounded by jokers and laughers ;-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:11 AM  

  • Brilliant and thought provoking. You are amazing!!!

    By Blogger Carol, at 11:21 AM  

  • Superb questions, interesting dilemmas, damn fine what-ifs!

    By Blogger Laurie, at 2:22 PM  

  • Did you know that Beethoven studied very briefly with Mozart? He went to Vienna in the spring of 1787, but after only two weeks, his mother was gravely ill with tuberculosis, so he went home to be with her - she died that summer. By the time he could return to Vienna (there was other family stuff to contend with - his father was an alcoholic and he had younger siblings to care for), Mozart had also died.

    By Blogger Jena the yarn harpy, at 9:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home